By Debra J. Saunders
President Barack Obama hailed the Supreme Court’s 5-3 decision Monday that struck down most of Arizona’s 2010 immigration law. In a statement released by the White House, however, the president said that he remains “concerned about the practical impact of the remaining provision of the Arizona law that requires local law enforcement officials to check the immigration status of anyone they even suspect to be here illegally.”
All eight voting members of the Supreme Court upheld this provision, which requires that Arizona cops try to determine the immigration status of individuals who have been stopped for reasons not involving immigration.
Even though federal law requires legal immigrants to carry identification papers with them, open-border types have dubbed the Arizona provision “show me your papers.” Even though the Arizona law requires that race not be a factor in any police actions conducted under the law, MSNBC’s Chris Matthews calls that section of the law “the requirement that cops stop people because they look a certain way.” Quoth the president, “No American should ever live under a cloud of suspicion just because of what they look like.” No matter how much Arizonans improve the law, the left will maintain that it is about race and race alone.
The irony is that Obama has been a strong booster of the Secure Communities program, introduced by President George W. Bush, operated under U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement and expanded under this administration. The program forwards fingerprints taken by local law enforcement to ICE, where officials check to see whether arrestees are in the United States legally. Obama is happy to have local law enforcement check on the immigration status of people it arrests, as long as only his feds make the decision over what to do — or not do — about it.
“A patchwork of state laws is not a solution to our broken immigration system,” Obama intoned in his statement. That’s Phony, Part 2.
“The White House hasn’t sued San Francisco,” a self-proclaimed sanctuary city, noted Jon Feere, legal policy analyst for the pro-enforcement Center for Immigration Studies, “but it’s going after states that are trying to uphold the law.”
I asked the Department of Justice to explain the administration’s scruples on Arizona-versus-sanctuary-cities to me in 2010. A spokeswoman replied: “There’s a difference between a state or locality saying they are not going to use their resources to enforce a federal law, as so-called sanctuary cities have done, and a state passing its own immigration policy that actively interferes with federal law. That’s what Arizona did in this case, and we believe it is an unconstitutional interference with the federal government’s prerogative to set and enforce immigration policy.”
Or, in this case, not enforce immigration policy. Clearly, the president objects only when states seek to bolster immigration law, not flout it.
As dissenting justice Antonin Scalia reasoned, “the sale of illegal drugs, for example, ordinarily violates state law as well as federal law, and no one thinks that the state penalties cannot exceed the federal.”
Now, there is a case to be made for the argument that letting states enforce federal law can, as Justice Anthony M. Kennedy wrote for the majority, “undermine federal law.” But it’s a case best made by those able to ignore the administration’s selective umbrage. What Obama is really saying: “Move over, Arizona. Only I have the right to undermine federal law.”
Debra J. Saunders is a San Francisco Chronicle columnist. Her email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.